Living In A PreWar, Collecting Soldiers, And Other Lead-Based House Keeping Issues


The Dakota, one of the Upper West Side's most famous prewar buildings. (Sadly, not where I live.)

If you’re reading The New Home Ec (which you are), chances are you know a thing or two about paint types. High gloss, eggshell, Lo-VOC, No-VOC , latex, oil-based . . . but what about . . . lead based?

That’s right, we’re going old skool today! After the jump.

We live in a pre-war on the Upper West Side. (For you non-Manhattanites, a pre-war is a building built before the first World War–so, before 1930 or so.) Pre-wars are in high demand around here, for a few reasons: First, pre-war buildings were made with cement, which means the walls are more soundproof than in newer buildings (great when you have obnoxious neighbors), more fireproof than newer buildings, and generally, cooler than newer buildings (in the summer months, of course). Pre-war buildings also generally come with very heigh ceilings, charming details, and of course, the supply is fixed: you can’t just make a new prewar. And any time supply is low . . . well, I don’t remember much about freshman Econ but I’m sure supply has some bearing on demand.

Unfortunately, with prewar buildings come a lot of issues. Like lead-based . . . well, everything. And as a charming side-effect of a leaded pre-war building, you get elevated blood lead levels, and an increased need to clean with an eye to reducing exposure to lead toxins.

Thus, if you live in a prewar (or, if in the suburbs, a non-updated, pre-1978 home (otherwise known as a ‘classic mid-century’–what a find!), you’re gonna want to remember these house keeping tips and tricks to keeping your family as lead-free as possible.

Wet Mopping

Do you like to wet mop? Wet mopping seems to be an outdated method of cleaning (nobody I know owns a mop anymore!), but running a wet mop around the floors and baseboards, followed by a wet rag on all walls and surfaces, is the first step in keeping that lead out of bodies and in the paint where it belongs.


Testing is recommended for homes built before 1978. You can have an inspection, a risk assessment, or a hazard screen done (or a combination of the three). A risk assessment may be worth having, as not all lead-based paint presents harm. (Water and soil testing are done separately upon request.)

It is recommended that a professional conduct the tests, however home DIY testing kits can be purchased, though studies show they are not terribly reliable.

If high levels of lead are found in your home, you are not required to do anything by the EPA, though if you ever choose rent your home in the future, any lead test results must be disclosed to new renters by law (which is why many landlords choose not to test, but just alert their renters of the “possibility” of lead toxins).

Take Your Shoes Off

Ever felt compelled to have a shoe-free home? Growing up, we kept our shoes on from the moment we were dressed till the second we pulled on our pajamas. But this has me rethinking things! Reducing lead exposure is one more reason you should feel justified to ask guests to “please remove your shoes” and install ‘shoe parking’ by the front door.

Check Your Collections

Oh, collections. Does your husband have a thing for old toy soldiers? (Mine doesn’t.) What about lead sinkers used for fishing? Or how about you, do you have a pewter collection? Glazed pottery? (I have a cake plate collection, but that is neither here nor there.) These old lead bombs are lovely, and definitely worth holding onto! Just, not in the literal sense. Put them somewhere safe where no one will be tempted to play with, suck on, or eat from them.

Test Your Soil

Soil is a common lead harborer, so if you’re habitually tending to a garden or flower pot, or eating home-grown tomatoes, take care to have your soil tested. (Vegetables grown in NYC gardens are not safe for eating, unless you are using nothing but new soil (from a store!), and your plot is in no way touching the ground.)

When In Doubt, Eat Your Greens And Drink Your Milk

Studies show that a diet rich in calcium and iron will help deal with any stray lead dudes that make it in your body, even after all that meticulous house keeping. (Lead dude is so the technical term, I checked).

Anything I’m missing?

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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